Playing with fire is an average day at work for local artists Claire Anderson and Steven ‘Woody’ Woodruff.
The young couple is a new addition to the Niagara Falls art scene as the co-owners of Studio Vine Glass: a glass blowing company founded on the principals of quality and design in Canadian glass. The company strives to combine beauty and function while manipulating, melting and molding the unique material into both household items and fragile yet fierce pieces of art.
“You can make [glass] look like almost anything and it is a very difficult skill to learn,” said Anderson. “This is why we like it so much – it’s a huge challenge.”
“You pretty much break everything you make for three years,” said Anderson.
Blowing glass quickly became an obsession for Anderson and Woodruff at a young age. The already artistic couple – who both attended Saint Paul High School in Niagara Falls – fell in love with the unique art medium while attending Sheridan College.
“We are both artistic and went through different types of art forms – painting, sculpture – before finding glass blowing,” said Anderson. “Woody took the class [at Sheridan] on a whim. But glass blowing either takes over your life or it doesn’t and for us, it took over.”
Following college the couple traveled the country, honing and improving their craft in cities like Montreal – where Woodruff worked as a scientific glass blower building organic chemistry apparatuses – and at a studio in picturesque Merrickville, Ontario before renting their own artistic space in Mississauga.
“[Glass blowing] is such a neat niche art,” said Anderson. “There is no ‘go to the glass blowing store and buy what you need,’.
“A lot of people do not carry forward because it is expensive and not very common anymore,” said Anderson. “Of all the arts, you really have to treat glass blowing like a business in order to pay for the furnace and means needed to operate the equipment almost 24 hours a day.”
But though the craft is difficult, Anderson said there was no question in their minds that they would one day own their own studio. Following time spent in Mississauga growing their business, the pair set out looking for a city to call home. Following an excessive amount of research, they found a retired garage on Slater Avenue in downtown Niagara Falls. Anderson said they knew the moment they stepped into the space – with its vaulted ceilings, deceivingly long interior and proximity to the border and Niagara’s tourism district — that it was perfect.
Today they create all of their pieces on premise with their own equipment and encourage by passers to come into the garage and watch the process. But Anderson said be warned, as they currently house three primary furnaces in the small studio, the space can feel like the tropics when they are fired up.
“We like it hot, but it can be a lot for some people,” said Anderson. “It is a real white hot that comes out of these furnaces.”
The first furnace, which contains a vat of molten glass, remains at two thousand degrees Fahrenheit at all times – ensuring that the glass remains in a liquid state and ready to be worked at all times. The second, aptly named the glory hole, Anderson describes as the hub of the operation. This white hot furnace is used to reheat a piece in between developing steps to keep the glass malleable.
“Hot glass is kind of the consistency of honey,” said Anderson. “You have to constantly spin it and work it or it starts to drip – like a liquid would. And it slowly solidifies as you are working with it. These furnaces help us keep it this consistency so we can move and form it. It is incredible how you can manipulate it.”
The third is an electric furnace which is used to slowly cool the completed pieces of 500 degree glass over an 11 hour period – which prevents the glass from shattering due to thermal stress.
“If you let them cool down too rapidly, it will explode – and pretty violently,” said Anderson.
Studio Vine Glass currently specializes in unique wine glasses and decanters, jewelry and decorative ornaments in addition to stunning bowls, sculptures and more.
“We think a lot about everything we make,” said Anderson. “And we really take functionality into consideration.”
This thoughtfulness can be found in what Anderson calls their ‘Bread and Butter’ pieces; brilliantly coloured Aurora Borealis bowls, wine glass with aeration peaks, imperfect-perfect whiskey glasses, tall necked decanters and lipped ice wine glasses. Their tableware can be found at over 40 retailers across the province – including Ravine Winery, Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and a number of Peller locations.
Each piece is reasonably priced, ranging from a mere $20-$40 dollars per glass and $150-$250 per bowl and available for purchase either online, through an associated retailer or directly through the Slater Street location.
“We try to keep our glass as reasonably priced as we can,” said Anderson. “We like to see our pieces being used.”
Along with their table wear pieces, Anderson said both herself and Woodruff both work on sculptural pieces and creative series for galleries in Toronto and Hamilton as well as shows held throughout the year.
“We have spent a lot of time building our business so now we are finally able to expand more into the sculptural work that we love,” said Anderson. “We are starting to get a lot more attention and settle into our space as well as our work.”
Woodruff’s Symbiote series featuring varying glass vessels which have had chunks of raw glass pressed onto the exterior to create a fluid, almost smoke like appearance is said to present a dramatic combined beauty of raw refinement that create an atmosphere of elegance and sophistication.
Anderson’s current series, which explores the themes of human rights and the commoditization of such human rights, features towering cake plates and glass houses created with casting techniques: the art of building wax forms and then directing molten glass into form where it solidifies.
“I try to use concept in my sculptures as well as mixed media,” said Anderson, whose sculptures combine metal shards and different forms of blown glass into cohesive collections – which sometimes do not resemble glass at all.
Pop by Studio Vine Glass and watch the action live or visit their website for a current list of provincial wide exhibitions featuring their work.